I was thinking the other day about how as a kid in school, I too often joined other classmates in making life a living hell for substitute teachers. Even early into my grade-school years, as we used to call them, there was a saying about “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” that pretty much illustrated how we behaved when the teacher was away and the substitute was assigned. Mostly, we challenged the substitute’s authority. The respect we would give our regular teacher was always on a very different level than the disrespect we had for the subs in my classrooms growing up.
Never did I have the experience of a step-parent coming into my family and trying to claim authority over me in the family, but I suspect I would have been just as ill-behaved in that circumstance as I was in response to substitute teachers in school. I don’t have to do what you just told me to do. You can’t make me. You’re not my boss. Those were some of my favorite bratty lines when I was a kid.
Without realizing it, I had in my own mind centered all respect for authority within the “us” to which I belonged. As for “them,” well, they can’t make me do it. They’re not my boss. Insiders count. Outsiders do not. And if it truly takes a village to raise a child, I was one of those kids who would respect those from our village. But your village? Or their village? No way! Keep your hands off me. And don’t expect me to obey your commandments.
To my way of thinking 60+ years later, my disrespect for the “outsider” was no better in my younger years than if some African-American citizen defies the police officer from some outside “other” village of “them” who comes in and dares lay down the law. Or some police officer who defies citizens from some outside “other” village of “them” who simply dare to come in……..period. Racially, today’s “us” vs. “them” plays out in all kind of terrible ways that threaten whoever the nearest “outsider” happens to be.
Nor was I any better in relation to outside others like substitute teachers in my youth than I sometimes am now in relation to the “them” of another political party or another religious perspective. I can be downright disrespectful to “them” as if to reveal I’ve gotten older in years but in some ways am no smarter than back in 9th grade Algebra class when Mrs. Rudle would sub for Mr. Thomas. Then I would join others in acting up there in the classroom. Now I just join the Facebook generation in making snarky comments about “them.”
And then there is my relationship with God. Too often over the years I have found myself acting as if God had no business ruling my life here from somewhere out there. Heaven was some “other” village up or out wherever “they’ wouldn’t understand, and God was not the boss of me. Obedience to his commands is then too much like having to obey Mrs. Rudle when Mr. Thomas was away. It would be “us” here in the world against the “them” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit out there in the heavens.
Except for Jesus.
Jesus is God’s way of joining “us.” No longer are we a “them” to God or is God a “them” to us. Now God is “us” because, through Jesus, God has joined with “us.” This describes the word “atonement” (at-one-ment) we sometimes use in church, but it also demonstrates what it means to be a Christian. A Christian, by following Jesus, works at joining “them” and atoning with “them” and eliminating them altogether by becoming instead an “us” full of human beings in the world. The Kingdom of God is demonstrated when we treat everybody with the respect of “us” and we love neighbor as self to the extent we are all one human village, no more them and no more outsiders, no more foreigners. No more substitutes.
Love of God and neighbor as ourselves happens when we are all “us” and there is no “them” as instead happens in the competing kingdoms of this world.
Yet, that’s not all that it takes to love “them” as “us,” is it?
There is one more step we have to take in following Jesus.
We have to go out in search of what Jesus refers to in Luke 15 as being the “lost sheep.” You see, sometimes our neighbor is not a “them” at all, despite our assumptions to the contrary. Sometimes our neighbor we are called to love as ourselves is a he or a she who feels all alone in this world. Who has no “us” in his or her life and no real sense of identity. This is the loner who isn’t even part of “them” but rather some lost sheep of a human being that flies under everyone’s radar. That is until the day that something dramatic happens. Maybe that loner who is not part of any “us” or “them” but who feels more like a single, isolated “it” picks up the computer and discovers ISIS on the internet. Or discovers a way to buy a gun and start killing people. Maybe that loner of a lost sheep just does something else as if to cry, “help!” Or, “hey, I’m here. Notice me. Come and find me. I can’t take being an ‘it’ any longer. I need to be an ‘us.’”
Here’s where I need to work harder and smarter in my own life these days if I’m to make a more positive difference in this horribly divided land, and larger world, in which we live. I need to go beyond just trying to connect with “them” until together we become “us.” I need to love more than just “those” neighbors as myself. I need to better go in search of lost sheep if I’m to follow Jesus. I need to do far better at connecting with the loner who doesn’t even have any “us” left at all, and I need to love this neighbor as myself. I need to do unto that neighbor who feels like an “it” not an “us” as I would have that neighbor to do unto me when I may also feel cut off somehow, disconnected, not part of any “us” or even any “them.”
From here I want to share my next blog about the lost sheep who becomes violent in today’s world. About how I believe the ISIS terrorist, the cop killer, the school shooter, the mass murderer to all be about the lost sheep Jesus knows and cares about far more than we do. When we make this lost sheep one of “them” we also make Jesus a “them.” Today let’s try to join them in becoming the bigger “us” of God’s Kingdom. Otherwise, we have us vs. them vs. Jesus.